The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial court's grant of summary judgment to an employer in a lawsuit brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. In the case, the employer presented evidence that, although the supervisor who fired her stated that she was terminated for violating company policy, she had done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, the employer is expected to pay a six-figure amount to settle the case.
According to a recent article in Forbes, giving false reasons for firing employees is not uncommon. Employers routinely give false reasons for firing employees, even when the true reason is perfectly legal, because the true reason is difficult to deliver. For example, it is much easier to tell a subordinate that they broke company policy, than that his customers have turned in numerous negative reviews for him.
This tends to become problematic if the employee later files a lawsuit against the employer, because the employer cannot have the case dismissed in its early stages if the reason for termination is questionable. Oklahoma state law protects employees from being wrongfully terminated based on discrimination, therefore a jury would have the opportunity to decide whether they think some sort of discrimination was the reason for the termination.
Provided that an employee is fired for lawful reasons, the best way to prevent future lawsuits from terminated employees is to provide the true reasons for termination. Although this may provide for an uncomfortable meeting, it will avoid the bad publicity a prolonged lawsuit may cause. It could also save your company thousands or even millions of dollars in an unfavorable verdict.